Filaments and fibrils that exhibit a 100-nm axial periodicity and occur in the medium and in the deposited extracellular matrix of chicken embryo and human fibroblast cultures have been tentatively identified with type VI collagen on the basis of their similar structural characteristics (Bruns, R. R., 1984, J. Ultrastruct. Res., 89:136-145). Using indirect immunoelectron microscopy and specific monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies, we now report their positive identification with collagen VI and their distribution in fibroblast cultures and in tendon. Primary human foreskin fibroblast cultures, labeled with anti-type VI antibody and studied by fluorescence microscopy, showed a progressive increase in labeling and changes in distribution with time up to 8 d in culture. With immunoelectron microscopy and monoclonal antibodies to human type VI collagen followed by goat anti-mouse IgG coupled to colloidal gold, they showed in thin sections specific 100-nm periodic labeling on extracellular filaments and fibrils: one monoclonal antibody (3C4) attached to the band region and another (4B10) to the interband region of the filaments and fibrils. Rabbit antiserum to type VI collagen also localized on the band region, but the staining was less well defined. Control experiments with antibodies to fibronectin and to procollagen types I and III labeled other filaments and fibrils, but not those with a 100-nm period. Heavy metal-stained fibrils with the same periodic and structural characteristics also have been found in both adult rat tail tendon and embryonic chicken tendon subjected to prolonged incubation in culture medium or treatment with adenosine 5'-triphosphate at pH 4.6. We conclude that the 100-nm periodic filaments and fibrils represent the native aggregate form of type VI collagen. It is likely that banded fibrils of the same periodicity and appearance, reported by many observers over the years in a wide range of normal and pathological tissues, are at least in part, type VI collagen.

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